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MILESTON, Mississippi -Members of the Catfish Workers of America met March 7 at the Mileston farmers' co-op to map out plans for a day of solidarity actions on April 9. Sixty-eight workers were fired from Freshwater Farms last November for protesting inhuman working conditions and discrimination. The plant, one of many catfish processing plants in the area, is located in the Delta town of Belzoni.
Since they were fired, the catfish workers have been picketing the plant and area supermarkets that carry Freshwater products. They have also been on the front lines of labor solidarity actions around the South, recently traveling to Washington, D.C., to support farmers protesting the loss of their land and government discrimination against Black farmers.
Activities will start at the catfish workers' organizing center at 11:00 a.m. There will then be a march to the plant, a picket line, a program of speakers, and leafleting at a Belzoni supermarket owned by a Freshwater Farms' stockholder that carries their products. After dinner, there will be a fund-raising social.
"We want everyone to come to Belzoni to see firsthand how we've been treated and to protest the unfair treatment of workers here," said Joann Hogan, vice president of the Catfish Workers of America. "We are also protesting because of the state of Mississippi's denial of our unemployment benefits."
The catfish workers plan to invite union fighters, farmers, catfish workers from other plants, civil rights activists, area church members, and others. They are also urging everyone to participate in the April 10 annual African-American Buffalo Fish Festival, also in Belzoni, which will pay tribute to the contributions of Black catfish workers. For more information, contact the Catfish Workers of America at (601) 247-2694.
Titan boss is dealt blow by striking Steelworkers
DES MOINES, Iowa - Striking Steelworkers at Titan Tire here continue their battle against Maurice Taylor, president and CEO of Titan International. United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 164 members have been on strike since May 1, 1998; Local 303 members in Natchez, Mississippi, walked out of a Titan plant there September 15.
Administrative Law Judge Jerry Hermele, of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), ruled February 11 Titan Tire had violated a number of U.S. labor laws.
Hermele found, among other unfair practices, that Titan discontinued insurance coverage for workers who were on sick or family leave when the strike began; threatened to and then did move jobs and equipment out of the Des Moines plant to one being built in Brownsville, Texas, where they plan to pay less than $7.50 an hour; hired replacement workers; and unilaterally imposed a contract on members of Local 164. The judge ordered Titan to offer reinstatement to strikers who make an unconditional offer to return to work - even if it means discharging replacements. According to the February 17 Des Moines Register, John Peno, president of Local 164, said the union has no present plans to end the strike or make an unconditional offer to return to work. In a USWA Solidarity News update, Titan USWA Local 303 president Leo Bradley from the Natchez plant, said, "We congratulate our brothers and sisters in Des Moines who have fought so hard and so long to achieve this great victory. We look forward to making a similar announcement in the not-too-distant future."
In a news conference held on February 22 at the Local 164 union hall, Local 164 vice president Pete Putney summarized Titan's 1998 financial statement, which showed its net income fell from more than $25 million in 1997 to about $8.2 million in 1998. In an answer to a media question Putney said the union was stronger than ever and had no intention of giving up the fight. Denny Wicker, who helps organize picket duty at the Des Moines plant, said unionists continue to be on the line seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Toronto Hydro workers walk out over safety
On February 25 some 1,500 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1 went on strike at the Toronto Hydro water utility over safety and working conditions. After three months of stalled negotiations, workers voted in a record turnout, giving a 98 percent strike mandate.
When asked about his wage level as he walked the picket line, Charles McNally, a substation troubleman, replied, "I came within this much of not being here on the picket line. It doesn't matter how much I earn." A workplace explosion had left him burned. Paul Kahnert, an overhead foreman and negotiating committee member, added there have been five fatalities since 1983 at Toronto Hydro. Kahnert said the company negotiators refuse to include safety clauses in the new contract, claiming "it is inappropriate in a collective agreement." They say it's in company policy and in legislation. "But I've seen two of my friends die here," he stated.
The company, formed from a recent merger, is also refusing to clearly codify past gains, such as same-sex benefits and pregnancy and adoption leaves. A noticeable number of women, both inside and outside workers, walked the lines.
The employer requested the Labour Relations Board impose arbitration and end the strike, as provided by provincial law in cases of workplace amalgamations. An initial attempt was rebuffed March 2.
The picket captain encouraged all strike supporters to come down to the picket lines, as well as to phone in news of Hydro work being effected around the city at (416) 968-2549, extension 28. This allows the union to organize picketing of sites where others are doing their work.
Susan LaMont, a member of USWA Local 2122 in Fairfield, Alabama; Edwin Fruit, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1149 in Perry, Iowa; and Nathan Cecckin, a member of the Young Socialists in Toronto, contributed to this column.
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